United’s Academy – Is It Really That Good?

Manchester United have faced criticism, including from former players like Gary Neville, for losing sight of their famed youth policy with the sale of Danny Welbeck.

However, has the club actually been that successful at promoting youth since Neville’s famed “Class of 92”?

Since 1937, United have featured a youth player in every match but there are fears now that this historic tradition will come to an end with their recent transfer policy. However, since the “Class of 92” it’s hard to pinpoint a world-class player that’s been nurtured in their youth teams and been a success at the club.

Of course they have produced top-class players in the last twenty years, but these youngsters have tended to move elsewhere to establish themselves on the world stage. Paul Pogba was allowed leave the club on a free to Juventus, with Sir Alex Ferguson preferring to recall a veteran Paul Scholes from retirement than promote the French midfielder.

Similarly, Gerard Pique had to move back to Barcelona to secure first-team football, unable to dislodge the Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic partnership in central defence. Even Guiseppe Rossi was limited to five first-team appearances at Old Trafford before making a name for himself at the likes of Parma, Villarreal and Fiorentina.

It could be argued that Adnan Januzaj will go on to become a world-class player but surely his first-team chances will become increasingly limited with the arrival of the likes of Angel di Maria.

Welbeck was United’s great hope but he only scored 20 league goals in 92 matches, albeit often being played out of position.

Possibly their most successful player from the youth ranks since Neville & Co. has been Darren Fletcher. His 12 full seasons at the club have resulted in 213 league appearances and he’s become an increasingly important player for the Red Devils. However, he’s understandably seemed off the pace at times since returning from a career-threatening illness.

After Fletcher, you have to look towards the likes of Sunderland duo John O’Shea and Wes Brown to highlight further successful academy graduates. While both were versatile, loyal servants to the club it’s hard to argue that they were world-class exemplars of United’s academy.

While Tom Cleverley, another former youth player, has also left the club – albeit on loan – it leaves Jonny Evans as the only experienced graduate at the club. Even then, his place may be threatened by the arrival of the likes of Marcos Rojo, with future defensive reinforcements likely in future transfer windows.

Tyler Blackett has looked decent when given his chances but, again, the arrival of Rojo and Daley Blind should limit further opportunities for him this season. There are high hopes at the club, however, for 18-year-old striker James Wilson, who grabbed a brace on his first-team debut under caretaker manager Ryan Giggs.

Wilson will certainly get opportunities to bolster his scoring record, as fourth in the pecking order of strikers at the club, but will hope to do better than fellow academy graduates like Federico Macheda, Mats Møller Dæhli and Febian Brandy.